Paul Pierce always used to bristle when it was suggested that defense wasn't his forte. Or, perhaps, if it was suggested, in a jest, of course, that it wasn't part of his repertoire.
That no longer is the case.
Two coaches who passed through Boston recently offered unsolicited tributes to Pierce for his defense.
"I think Paul Pierce is guarding as well as I've ever seen him," said Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak. And Detroit's Flip Saunders said, "I've never seen Paul play defense the way he's played in the last two or three weeks. He's always been a guy who gets steals, but he's never been a guy who, one-on-one, will really go after you. He's been so aggressive."
Both coaches also said the same thing when asked for an explanation: the arrival of Kevin Garnett. "Kevin makes it contagious," Saunders said.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers doesn't care how it happened or why it happened, but he definitely does agree with Krystkowiak and Saunders that it did, indeed, happen. "It's been unbelievable," Rivers said of Pierce's defense. "His focus has climbed to such a high level. Before, at shootarounds, you had to say, 'Hey, Paul,' a few times. But he now understands that that is how we are going to win.
"Paul knows he's a good offensive player. Ray [Allen] knows he's a good offensive player. Kevin has always known that you have to be a defender all the time.
"Right now, Paul is beginning to understand that."